February 2015 - Go West, Old Man!

Ralph's Blog

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After four months in Austin it was time to move on and continue our journey. Thank goodness for the Internet, how people planned trips like this before its advent is beyond me. The process goes something like this:

As you might guess, this takes a considerable amount of time, without the Internet it would be a real challenge. Which makes me glad we're doing this in the Internet age and I don't have to have tons of maps, reference books and quarters to feed a pay phone to call each place for reservations. As it is, I have an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of reservations and addresses, a color coded Excel calendar to keep track of where we should be graphically and an Excedrin headache.

To make our February 20th departure a little easier we booked a spot at the Lazy R&R Cove in the Texas hills, planning to spend the weekend with the Romero family being as lazy as the name implied. Friday night we were on our own, soaking in the beautiful scenery and watching the cows that roamed through the RV park. A little odd, that, but quite bucolic.

On Saturday the grandkids, and chaos, joined us and we had a terrific BBQ (chicken and pork wrapped in bacon) under clear skies and superb weather. This is what camping should be all about! We walked along the Guadalupe river (sadly reduced by the drought) and had a great time.

The Guadalupe river

When we retired for the evening Boo-Ray (their large and rambunctious goldendoodle) and Shira (our little cockerpoo), took up about 90% of the room in the trailer as they chased each other around. Boo, who had never seen a cat up close before, was very interested in Harry & George, the feeling was not reciprocated. The animals finally settled down, but I'm not sure how much sleep Scott and Raina got with Boo in the bed with them.

Our weekend with the kids was cut a bit short because grandson Franti woke up with a stomach bug and was not feeling at all well.

Monday morning we started off across the hills of Texas, past endless ranches in some very rural country. When we started our gas gauge assured us we had 150 miles to empty - no problem, right? By the time it read 50 miles to empty we had not seen a single gas station and we were getting a bit nervous, so we programmed the GPS for the nearest diesel station. Ah, only 20 miles away, we were saved! The lady-in-a-box said turn right here, so we turned right only to hear the warning beep for a dead end road. The lady-in-a-box says, in her infuriating, imperturbable tones, "turn around when possible". Lady (I will not call her what I was thinking at that point) you just told me to go down this road - there's no place to turn a 37 foot trailer around!

I crept along to a Y in the road, one side with a barred gate and the other side with a cattle guard. Could I turn around here? Well maybe? Before trying I headed out on foot across the cattle guard and to my relief found a large, flat, hardpacked field with plenty of room to turn around and we were once again on our way. We made it to the gas station and continued our journey with relief.

It turned out that the lovely weekend weather was just a tease, because as we drove the 200 miles to San Angelo State Park we watched the outside thermometer fall steadily. On arrival I wandered around all the campsites trying to find one that had an unfrozen water spout. The thermometer read 23 degrees - damn the Polar Vortex. The trailer is supposed to be insulated down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, but 23 degrees makes things a bit chilly. Little did we know it was only a portent of things to come.

Next stop was the Carlsbad Caverns. What can I say - they are magnificent! The first day Judy and I walked in the main entrance, spiraling downward all the way to the bottom of the caverns. This is not an insignificant walk, the 1.25 mile hike down the Natural Entrance Trail is extremely steep, descending about 750 feet. The path is completely paved with stainless steel handrails, but it has been superbly engineered so as not to interfere with the grandeur of the caves.

About half way down we met a very nice ranger who gave us an impromptu talk on the history and geology of the caves, pointing out several features we would have otherwise missed completely. The lighting has been beautifully designed to enhance the cave's features, providing a magical experience. It must have taken a great deal of courage to explore these caves by candlelight back in the 1800s.

One interesting story from the ranger: a few years ago a car went out of control and took out the power line to the cave. The rangers scrambled for flashlights to walk the paths to help people out of the incredible darkness that descends when the lights go out (believe me that's dark!) but found that the tourists had taken out their cell phones and were calmly walking themselves out of the cave with no panic at all. Modern technology to the rescue.

The second day at Carlsbad opened with Judy feeling lousy, having caught Franti's stomach bug. Feeling slightly guilty, I returned to the caverns accompanied by my trusty camera and tripod and spent a few hours trying to capture the enchantment of the caves using only the ambient light. Flash photography washes out all the colors and shadows, it just isn't the same. Using exposures of up to a minute I did get some good shots. Here are a few of them:

By the time we reached Roswell NM (not an alien in sight that wasn't on a sign, of which there were many) I was hungry. Judy, with her stomach bug, was not and patronized only the Ladies Room while I had liver and onions. A note of explanation - Judy hates liver so I only have it when she's out of town or we are at a restaurant. Once again I felt a little guilty enjoying lunch while Judy was sick, but it didn't affect my appetite.

The weather while we were at Carlsbad had been chilly at night but warming during the day. Naturally, as we left there were warnings of snow ahead. Snow? Didn't we leave New York to avoid the snow? What gives?

Winter, that's what gives. By the time we reached the small town of Vaughn, NM there was several inches of the white stuff on the ground and it was below 20 degrees out there. Following our not-so-trusty GPS to the campground I had found on the Internet we arrived at a field of pure white with a few unrecognizable objects poking out of it. No office, no house, no nothing but a field. There was no way I was going to take eight tons of RV out on that blank slate of a surface without a little more information.

Unslinging her trusty cell phone Judy called the number of the park, only to get a 'leave your name and number' message. It was getting late by then so we decided to try the other RV park we saw as we drove into town. The GPS assured us the road circled around the park, so we continued on very slowly. We started up a very small hill but that's all we did - started. We did not finish. Even with four wheel drive the pickup refused to do anything more than spin the wheels in the snow.

OK, let's back up and try again. Yeah right! All that did was jackknife the trailer, so there we were, stuck in the snow. Still having cell phone in hand, Judy reached for her purse to call Good Sam Roadside Assistance only to discover her purse was missing. After a few minutes of fruitless searching she realized she must have left it in the rest room in Roswell, where it was obviously abducted by aliens.

Modern technology once again came to our rescue. While Judy was arranging for a tow truck to get us off the hill, (and I was thinking dark thoughts about mountains and molehills) I used the banking app on my phone to find the credit card receipt from lunch, complete with phone number for the restaurant. A very kind lady searched the Ladies Room and confirmed that Judy's purse was with the little green men in orbit somewhere. Web browsers soon found the phone numbers for the various cards in her wallet and they were all cancelled as we waited.

After two hours of reading (we always travel with our e-books handy, likewise we were towing our own rest room so the wait wasn't uncomfortable!) the tow truck finally showed up and got us halfway up the hill before he, too, got stuck in the snow. We stood scratching our heads for a couple of minutes when a third four wheel drive vehicle showed up and asked if we needed help. Soon they had hooked their tow chains to the tow truck and with three large trucks (I kind of felt like hooting the horn on my railroad engine - I think I can... I think I can...) we pulled the Gypsy wagon up the hill.

Tell me again why we left New York ahead of winter.

Our snowbound landing legs.

We made it to the RV park and, leaving the White Goddess attached, hooked up our heated hose (it was now 13 degrees) and burrowed under the covers to hibernate with the heaters blasting. By the way, snuggling cats do wonders for keeping your feet warm.


Morning brought a view of unbroken snow as far as the eye could see. We put the cats back in jail (a.k.a the shower) closed up the slides, unhooked the electric and water after first breaking off the huge icicle that formed when the outside spray faucet froze and cracked, and very slowly crept on our way. The main road had been plowed and was colored red by the volcanic ash they use on snowy roads. The going wasn't bad until halfway to Santa Fe, where the plow inexplicably made a U-turn and left the next 20 miles of hilly road ice covered and treacherous.

At times reaching the exalted velocity of 20 MPH on the straightaways we finally made it into Santa Fe. Of course every muscle in my body that could tense up had done so, I was very glad to see the sign saying 'turn here for the RV park. The only problem was it was in the middle of a strip mall parking lot with no driveway attached. I circled through a nearby Lowe's to reverse direction on the divided highway, circled once again through a convenient mall and tried again while Judy called the RV office. Whoever heard of an RV park in a suburban shopping strip mall! This time they answered and explained how to find the hidden driveway and we were almost home free.


The RV park was once again covered in snow, but this one had clearly marked spaces and we were assured that there was good, solid gravel somewhere under the snow. I made the turn, hit the brakes gently and kept on going - the brakes were completely useless. We came to a stop with a large concrete something under the trailer, half an inch from the tire and an eighth of an inch too close to the plumbing for the sewer drains - it had broken off the chain keeping the cap from getting lost but had not damaged the plumbing.

This time mechanically locking the wheels in four wheel drive I hesitantly backed up and - wonder of wonders - the trailer actually moved without any fuss. I noticed the space next to the laundry was wider than most, so I aimed for that one and made it without incident. Hooking up we discovered our heated hose was about ten feet short. Already knowing where the Lowe's was I bought a 15 foot hose, a 20 foot heater tape, a few length of pipe insulation and a roll of electric tape and proceeded to make my own emergency heated hose. Santa Fe - the Gypsy Wagon has landed!


The next few days were sort of like those all-inclusive tour packages. If this is Sunday this must be Albuquerque, Monday it was Santa Fe and Tuesday it was Taos. We visited our old buddy Mike O'Shea and his wife Linda, saw the Old Towns of all three cities, wandered through the Georgia O'Keefe museum (a spiritual experience for Judy) crossed the Rio Grande River, and saw the Earthships.

Judy in Taos

The "miraculous staircase" in Santa Fe. with no central support.

Ralph's new friends in Albuquerque.

The Earthships (URL) are some very interesting off-the-grid houses made from recycled materials. Each one is unique and once built are almost entirely self-sufficient. We took the tour and were impressed. If we had the money (they are not cheap) it would be a great way to live.

Judy in an Earthships greenhouse

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